A large number of evangelical Christians have soured on Republicans and the political fray.
A large number of evangelicals have soured on Republicans and believe that President Bush’s faith has no effect on what kind of President he is, according to a new online survey by Beliefnet (click for full results here).
The results help explain why Democrats improved their standing among evangelicals on Tuesday and suggest Christians are reassessing their attitudes toward politics.
Since many Americans who are described by analysts as "evangelical Christians" don't actually identify themselves that way, the Beliefnet survey instead considered evangelicals to be those who said both that "accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and savior will give you eternal life" and that the "Bible is the inerrant word of God." 770 people answered yes to both questions.
Even though this was a conservative group-only 28.8 percent described themselves as Democrats and only 13.8 percent said they were liberal-they showed signs of great dissatisfaction with the Republicans. 30 percent said they voted for fewer Republicans than they had in earlier elections, and a stunning 60.7 percent said that in recent years their views about Republicans had become less positive. (51.5 percent said their views on Democrats had grown more negative).
Perhaps most surprisingly, half (49.3 percent) of these evangelicals do not believe that President Bush's faith makes him a better President. 37.2 percent said it's had no effect at all and 12 percent reported that it's made him worse.
Though no earlier polling exists that could prove statistically that these numbers are worse than a few years ago, Beliefnet’s reporting for the past six years has indicated that Bush's personal faith has been enormous part of his appeal to evangelicals, many of whom had believed that it would make him a better president.
Why did many evangelicals turn against the Republicans this year?
One major reason was Iraq. More evangelicals (22.5 percent) said the war was the most important issue, of greater gravity even than abortion (16 percent) and homosexuality (10.7 percent). And even among this conservative group, 74.7 percent said they did not support "President Bush’s approach to Iraq."
Among those evangelicals who specifically said their opinions of Republicans had worsened, 37.6 percent cited the war as the biggest issue. The other big issue was "corruption." 18.2 percent cited that as the issue that mattered to them most, more than 3 times as many who cited abortion or homosexuality.
All these factors led to a general dissatisfaction about politics in general among these voters. 40.2 percent of the evangelicals surveyed favored the idea of Christians taking a "fast" from politics, compared to 30.7 percent who opposed the idea.
Part of the problem, many reported, was that Christianity has become too closely associated with the Republican party. 42.9 percent said "Christians are too closely allied with the Republican party," compared to 29.6 percent who wanted a tighter connection to the party and 27.5 percent who said the current balance is just right.
A significant minority apparently believes that Christian involvement in politics has hurt the faith's image. 26.3 percent said Christian involvement in politics had given them a "more negative" impression of Christianity itself.
(This view was even more pronounced among non-Christians. 63.8 percent of Jews surveyed said Christian involvement in politics gave them a more negative impression of Christianity, compared to 7 percent who said it made them more positively disposed.)
The evangelical voters dislike many of the most well known Christian leaders involved in Republican politics. For instance, while they liked like Billy Graham, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen–who are known more for their uplifting spiritual message than their political activism–these Christians have negative views about the men often identified in the media as the pre-eminent evangelical leaders.
For instance, 50 percent had an unfavorable impression of Jerry Falwell, compared to 17 percent who viewed him positively. 46 percent viewed Pat Roberston unfavorably to 28 percent who viewed him favorably. While 4 percent still liked Ted Haggard, 58 percent viewed unfavorably, although very few said his downfall affected their vote.
The one highly political conservative religious leader who remains personally popular is James Dobson, whom 49 percent viewed favorably.
A small bit of good news for Republicans: evangelicals still overwhelmingly believe that President Bush better exhibits Christian principles in his presidency than did Bill Clinton (53.2 percent-21.3 percent).
And among the broader group of evangelicals surveyed, there seems to be an odd disconnect between what they personally viewed as the most important issues and those they think Jesus would care most about. While 16 percent of those surveyed listed abortion as their number-one issue, 34.4 percent said Jesus would consider abortion as the "most serious example of immorality today"–far more than the number who thought that Jesus would list homosexuality (11 percent) , poverty (12.8 percent) or the Iraq war (4.8 percent).
Though they disagreed with each other about what Jesus would emphasize, they were confident that Jesus would believe that our political leaders were "focused on the wrong things." 82.5 percent took that position.